Senior Brian Bostick has held the job for Alabama the past season and a half, but will be challenged by scholarshipped junior Mike McLaughlin, Alex Fox and no doubt a host of newcomers and walk-ons trying to win the job.
Bostick, a Cullman native, made 16 of 26 field goals while hitting 33 of 37 PATs in 2003. Included in Bostick's field goal misses were attempts from 40, 44, and 45 (twice) yards. Some high profile misses in 2003 marred what was statistically not a bad season for Bostick.
But placekickers aren't remembered by percentages, they're remembered by one or two kicks that define their careers.
Bostick couldn't convert on a 38-yard attempt in overtime that would have sealed a Crimson Tide win over Arkansas. Likewise, a botched 45-yard attempt at the end of regulation versus Tennessee sticks in the mind of many Tide fans (both regardless of any snap/hold problems that might have had an effect).
The effects of pressure dictate that a string of 60-yard boots in warm-ups is meaningless in the midst of a 39-yard attempt to win a game. A familiar Gene Stallings story is an appropriate demonstration.
In practice, Coach Stallings, being the intimidator that he was, would stand just a few feet from the spot of the ball, in full view of the placekicker as he attempted to kick. One of Stallings' kickers, struggling as the coach looked on, told Stallings he kicked better when the coach wasn't watching him. Stallings' reply was to the effect: "Son, I hate to tell you, but I'm going to be watching at every game this year."
The challenge for Bostick, or whomever else might win the placekicking job, will be one of dealing with the pressure and becoming a Crimson Tide hero, not a goat.
There are three jobs requiring the services of a placekicker: kicking extra points, kicking field goals, and kicking off after a score or to begin a half. A squad could elect to use one more accurate kicker for PATs and short field goals, but employ a ‘long distance' kicker for attempts out of range for the more consistent kicker.
While Fox is listed as a placekicker, his duty on extra point and field goal attempts might be that of holder.
An ideal kickoff man would drive the ball through the back of the end zone every time, forcing an opponent to begin from their own 20-yard-line. But when that's not available to a team, hang time and direction become important to good kickoff coverage. A kickoff out of bounds places the ball on the opponents' 35-yard-line, a bad starting point for a defense.
At the end of spring training, Coach Dave Ungerer noted that soph Jamie Christensen had been impressive as a "spot" kickoff man, putting the ball deep enough and high enough and in good position for coverage.
The Crimson Tide's placekicking situation will be one of the most interesting positions to watch throughout the season, but you can expect the Tide staff to look for a man with whom they are familiar and comfortable, and someone they have seen operate in the heat of battle.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another in our series looking at each position on the 2004 Alabama football team.